Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (***)
By Jon Waterman

Summary – A terrorist cell led by the mysterious, faceless John Lark have acquired three plutonium cores.  Their goal is to detonate them simultaneously to cause unimaginable havoc and essentially reset the world.  It’s up to Ethan Hunt and his team to recover them quickly and take down the ringleader, if he can find him.

Hunt. Ethan Hunt – Probably the most important thing to note is that even though this is the sixth movie of the series, it isn’t cheesy.  It isn’t hokey. It isn’t laughable and it hasn’t shown signs of being that way since #3.  That’s impressive and makes me think that the MI films could go the way of Bond if Tom Cruise ever decides to age or relinquish the role to another actor with a hidden death wish.  However, just because it’s handled with sincerity doesn’t necessarily mean it is great.

Free Falling – What hurts the film is the story, but not to a large degree.  There are no real surprises to this spy thriller.  You know what to expect, and so it’s just a matter of when it will happen or when that person will be revealed to be the person you always knew they were.  There are a few tropes that usually accompany lazy filmmaking, like the race against time, that do appear here.  Yet, despite that and the long running time, the movie isn’t boring and it’s never not fun.  That’s mostly due to the action.

Sixth Time’s the Charm – I greatly appreciate that there is very little reliance on computer graphics for the exhilarating scenes.  So much is done as a practical effect and with real props and vehicles, which goes a long way.  Stunts are less of a thing this time around.  There’s some skydiving at the beginning that isn’t as thrilling as it should have been, and there’s the infamous ankle breaking roof jump, but nothing like climbing the side of a glass building or holding onto an airplane like in the past two movies.  The car chase was good, but nothing we haven’t seen before.  I think my favorite sequence was the bathroom fight scene.  I miss that kind of martial arts choreography and this scene with Liang Yang reminded me of when Jet Li hit the US scene in “Lethal Weapon 4.”

Biggest Standout – Sound design is an odd choice for this section, but it’s true.  There are a couple times where either the musical score, silence, or other minimalist tactics are used to emphasize the action (or emotions of the characters during the action) instead of drowning everything out with explosions, shots, and sound effects.

Biggest Disappointment – It was too predictable.  That didn’t ruin anything for me, but I wanted so badly to be surprised and it never happened and was never close to happening.

Is It Worth Watching Again? – This team has chemistry, and it shows.  The filmmaking is solid enough that it takes a lot of standard elements and makes it a worthwhile and entertaining movie.  I don’t think I’d watch a lot of sixth films in a series more than once, but Mission: Impossible could break that with the right mood.

Rating: PG-13
Year: 2018
Running Time: 147 min
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring:  Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames


Never Too Young to Die (1986)

Never Too Young to Die (1/2 star)
By Jon Waterman

Summary – After his father is killed, Lance Stargrove inherits a remote farm.  There he finds a hot, young woman being attacked by punk thugs.  After the battle, he learns that his father was a secret agent.  The woman was his partner and the thugs were trying to retrieve a disk that a crazy hermaphrodite singer/gang leader needs to complete a terrorist plot.  Your typical high school story.

Too Dumb – What a disjointed mess this turned out to be.  Clearly the filmmakers weren’t going for high drama, or top-of-the-line action, but it also isn’t nearly as cheesy and campy as it really needs to be.  Being a pseudo-spy movie, there are a couple small gadgets, which are okay but basic.  It’s mostly about gun play or melee and both are boring.  There are a couple wacky characters, but nothing that makes a huge impact.  Acting is over the top, as expected, but not enough to be funny.

Too Heavy-Handed – It also needs to make some sense. I don’t understand the motivation for anything in the plot.  Why is the main villain, Velvet Von Ragner (played terribly by Gene Simmons), plotting to poison the water supply?  Money, I guess, but a lot of money was spent to go after this.  Why is the gang in a post-apocalyptic desert?  Where are all these resources to do all this stuff coming from?  Separately, why would Stargrove (played terribly by John Stamos) and Danja Deering (played terribly by Vanity) in a remote tropical resort hotel act as “bait” for Velvet?  Why does Lance’s friend/roommate Cliff (played terribly by Peter Kwong) get involved and become this blood thirsty nerd that somehow is allowed to be part of an intricate spy operation?  So many details glanced over in this movie.  Sometimes wacky plot holes can be fun, but when mundane stuff is dragged out instead, it’s not enjoyable or funny.

Too Boring – Honestly, the saddest part is that Stargrove himself is so worthless and uninteresting.  An action hero in this type of movie should have good dialogue at least.  Give me the snappy comebacks.  Give me the one-liners. You know what you get?  When two “bad guys” are blocking the door, he does the “What’s on your shirt?” then flicks their nose thing.  If you think that’s the height of clever, then you are a much different person than I.

Biggest Standout – That fake-ass beard.  You ain’t fooling anyone with that glued-on fur.

Biggest Disappointment – If you’ve seen the trailer, and you should, it’s sad to now know that the movie doesn’t live up to that hype.

Is It Worth Watching Again? – Sadly no.  Unless you’re desperate for a really dumb sex scene where they use all the shots from each take consecutively preceded by a weird fruit montage, I’d skip it altogether. It’s not solid enough for a B-movie night choice.

Rating: R
Year: 1986
Running Time: 92 min
Director: Gil Bettman
Writer: Steven Paul, Anton Fritz
Starring:  John Stamos, Vanity, Gene Simmons

Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

Pacific Rim: Uprising (1/2 star)
By Jon Waterman

Summary – The son of Stacker Pentecost, Jake, encounters a young girl named Amara who has built her own Jaeger to protect against any potential Kaiju attack.  They don’t see a monster, but they do suddenly have to fight a rogue Jaeger.  That scuffle leads to both of them being brought into the Jaeger program once again to help battle against whatever made that thing and any other monster threats that might be coming sooner than they hope.

Shallow – It’s been five years since the first “Pacific Rim” movie came out and they did not use their time well to make an effective sequel.  This plot makes no sense, despite taking so much time to try to explain things.  You’ll be sitting for at least 30 minutes with confusing exposition and no fights and terrible character development.  For example, Jake threatens to steal Amara’s Jaeger by any means necessary in their first encounter and then somehow they immediately are friends shortly after. Or what about how the rogue Jaeger beats up and crashes the good guys and then they cut away?  This giant enemy is still walking around and we have no idea what happened to it.

Hollow – The whole thing is pretty pointless and full of stupid scenes.  One of the subplots (or potential political statements) is this anger about not using pilots inside the mechs and instead remotely piloting the machines.  It’s a stupid argument because using one person sounds good.  Putting none in immediate danger, especially when so few pass training, sounds good.  Yet the movie tries to tell us this is the evil path.  I don’t get it.

Downsizing – In other ways, the movie fails to live up to the not-that-high bar the first one set. It’s trying way too hard to be funny.  The world building is terrible. The characters are one-dimensional.  The mind melding parts are no longer cinematic or interesting.  The action is boring and infrequent and anti-climactic.  There’s typical sci-fi computer crap that’s there to look cool but is clichéd.

Biggest Standout – There’s, like, this really awesome construction montage with a fleet of people walking around and pointing at things while intense music plays.  The camera, like, swoops all over the place and stuff to show how cool and intense it is that stuff is kinda maybe getting built.  Totally worth spending a lot of time on it.

Biggest Disappointment – This movie tried harder to be a lot more like “Transformers” than “Godzilla” and it lost all of the charm along the way.

Is It Worth Watching Again? – Oh, hell no.

Rating: PG-13
Year: 2018
Running Time: 111 min
Director: Steven S. DeKnight
Writer: Steven S. DeKnight, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, T.S. Nowlin
Starring:  John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny

Pacific Rim (2013)

Pacific Rim (**1/2)
By Jon Waterman

Summary – Gigantic monsters called Kaiju have been spawning out of the Pacific Ocean at an increasing rate.  They terrorize and destroy cities if left unchecked.  As a response, the world has created the Jaeger program, which consists of equally giant robotic machinery that needs to be controlled by two pilots from the inside.  That system has been working for a long time, but the monsters seem to be getting stronger and maybe humanity can’t hold them off anymore.

The Future is Now – One of the most important aspects of any science fiction movie is the world building, and that is done well here.  There’s a decent explanation as to where the Kaiju come from and the film quickly, but thoroughly, runs through the “history” that leads us to the start of the film as we know it.  It’s great that the Jaeger Mechs are futuristic, but in a near-future scenario, the cities were not advanced to unreasonable degrees.  They do gloss over how long it takes to develop this highly advanced technology and build out the machines while the monsters run rampant and they don’t really explain why so many people would continue to live in such highly concentrated areas that are constantly under the threat of attack.  You’d think if the world governments were intervening, they would evacuate them permanently.

Man – The characters do not seem to have the same level of thought put into them.  Just about everyone is one-dimensional and could be summed up in a couple words.  There are some backstories given, but honestly that just feeds into the core attributes we already see, rather than expand their depth.  The acting seems to be phoned in by most of the characters and I thought that the British scientist Gottlieb (played by Burn Gorman) was a straight up cartoon character, more so than his wacky counterpart Geiszler (Charlie Day), who may be the most complex of the bunch.

Vs. Monster – Who needs developed characters when you have robots fighting monsters?  Neither side was designed with a high level of creativity or memorability.  However, the fights themselves were well done and surprisingly not that cheesy.  There have been several variations of this theme before, but this movie is probably the most cinematic.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t some throwbacks to its predecessors.  Occasionally the camera will zoom in awkwardly, or we’ll be treated to a gratuitous close-up shot, but overall it’s not funny unless it’s trying to be.

Biggest Standout – The neural handshake that the Jaeger co-pilots have to endure presents us with flashbacks and memories of the characters.  This stuffs a lot of highly stylized, visual storytelling in a very short time where the camera acts almost like a ghost floating through the split-second scenes.

Biggest Disappointment – I wanted to be invested in the characters, but it just wasn’t possible.

Is It Worth Watching Again? – I mean…sure.  It’s a fun movie that tries hard to be more than it is.  It could use a little more action, but the fight scenes that do exist are enjoyable.

Rating: PG-13
Year: 2013
Running Time: 131 min
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writer: Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro
Starring:  Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi

Swing Time (1936)

Swing Time (**1/2)
By Jon Waterman

Summary – Professional dancer and frequent gambler Lucky misses his own wedding and as a result is no longer welcome in his fiancée’s house. However, her father will allow Lucky to marry her if he can raise $25,000, so he heads to New York to pursue some bigger opportunities.  While there, he stumbles upon Penny (a dance instructor herself) and a new partnership is formed.

Times Have Swung – Part of the issue with reviewing movies that are several decades old is that you don’t always have the societal and historical context that people going into the theater would have had.  I bring this up because the plot makes absolutely no sense to my current sensibilities.  Here’s a guy that wants to marry someone, but he works until the very last moment and misses the wedding because his fellow stage dancers want to sabotage him so he doesn’t leave the group.  Then her father agrees to let him try marrying her again if he can raise enough money. Then later, Lucky specifically avoids making that much money so he doesn’t have to go back.  I don’t know how the father would know he hit the goal.  Maybe telepathy existed back then and humanity has since devolved.  To conveniently move along this very loose plot, there are several cases where the characters act like they have absolutely no free will. It’s annoying.

Swing and Miss – Okay, but it’s a comedy, so the plot doesn’t have to be great.  On that front, it’s hit and miss.  Again, I think being in the 21st century hurts things. As comedy changes or borrows from itself over time, older jokes are diluted or made stale.  For films in this era, sometimes it feels like half of the battle is just looking goofy, and several characters fit that mold. There are a few good lines in there from the sassy secretary Mabel (Helen Broderick), but my favorite part was the scene with the tailor (Abe Reynolds) as he throws a fit over being asked to add cuffs to some pants.

Swing Set – Of course the real attraction is Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The rest is icing.  Audiences want to see them sing and dance and fall in love.  Well, the falling in love part is kind of covered in the above paragraphs.  The dancing is impressive and I certainly appreciate the single takes for each routine.  The camera work is also fluid at times, but not as dynamic as you might expect to see from other filmmakers.  The songs may be better than that dancing in my mind.  “Never Gonna Dance,” “A Fine Romance,” and “The Way You Look Tonight” are all classics that got their start here. You can’t ask for much better.

Biggest Standout – Ginger Rogers is the only legitimate actor in the movie.  Everyone else is so campy, but not her.  Combine that with her dancing skills and she carries the show.

Biggest Disappointment – How can this not be the “Bojangles in Harlem” number?  Fred Astaire in blackface and a big set of lips on the bottom of a black shoe is a huge disappointment.  Bill Robinson created the character Bojangles and this is supposed to be a tribute but it doesn’t feel like one.  What’s worse is that this is probably the best dance scene in the picture (especially the part with the three shadows) and it’s completely marred and tainted by that casual racism.

Is It Worth Watching Again? – I know that many consider this to be one of the best Fred and Ginger movies, but I couldn’t fully get into it.  Maybe if I knew more about dance it would be more impressive, but the story was too weak.  I can hear the songs anytime I want in other ways. I’d rather try watching a different movie of the iconic pair instead.

Rating: NR
Year: 1936
Running Time: 103 min
Director: George Stevens
Writer: Howard Lindsay, Allan Scott
Starring:  Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Victor Moore

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

originally posted on filmbrats.com

The Wizard of Oz (****)
Reviewed by Jon Waterman

Dorothy lives in Kansas. If that’s not enough reason to want to escape (just kidding, people of KS), a mean lady wants to take her cute little doggie away. That can’t happen. So, she packs her dog Toto in a basket and runs away. When her mind changes, so does the weather. She rushes home to beat the approaching tornado. Inside the house, she’s whisked away and transported to a fantastical land called Oz. Now, to return home, she’ll need the help of several new friends.

We all pretty much know the movie. It’s a musical that starts off in a sepia tone then switches to color once Oz is involved, then back to sepia. Along the way, Dorothy gathers new friends in the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. Together they must find the Wizard of Oz who has the power to bring her back home.

The movie has a huge production value. The costumes and makeup needed for hundreds of characters (mostly munchkins – good citizens of Oz, flying monkeys – the wicked witch’s henchpets, and the witch’s castle guards). All of that combined with the thorough suits designed for all the main characters equals one extravagant production. It seems overly ambitious in many respects, but it’s all worth it. I doubt something as adventurous as that would be approved today. Of course it doesn’t stop there. The special effects look great. The tornado moving in the background across the painted backdrop. The witch appearing and leaving magically behind a wall of flame. The set design looks incredible. I’m not only talking about the magical, decked out cities within Oz, but also the built sets and landscapes of Kansas. The farm in which the Gale family resides shows great detail as they try to avoid any stage look or feel. And despite the painted backgrounds (which I still prefer over contemporary green screen effects most of the time), they accomplish their goal.

In fact, the only stagy aspect of the movie is the acting. Acting in the thirties tended to be overdone and overly projected. It was a transitional period where actors were slowly learning to tone it down. But in this particular movie, the roles were played in full force. Making sure the dialogue was heard took precedence over how it was delivered. Just as long as the jokes had their zing and the songs made you listen, the rest was secondary.

And the songs do make you listen. Not only do they further the plot, but they’re fun and whimsical and easy for kids to learn. Since the film has become a childhood classic, that’s an important aspect to keep in mind. The musical is successful, because whenever a kid hears a song, they relate it to the movie and may want to see it again. The two become inseparable. This film also incorporates existing classical pieces at certain moments as well, which seems unusual today, but also sounds like a pretty good idea.

It’s a great children’s story full of great characters (good and evil). Parents can enjoy it with their kids. Adults can enjoy it on its own joyful merits. Filmmakers can enjoy it for its techniques and surprisingly dynamic and well framed cinematography. Most of us have seen it, but for those who haven’t…why not? It’s a classic for a reason. Sit back and enjoy the whirlwind. For those that know the film well, I ask you this. Where does the red brick road lead?

Rating: PG
Year: 1939
Running Time: 102 min
Director: Victor Fleming
Writer: Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, Edgar Allan Woolf
Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger

The Color Purple (1985)

The Color Purple (***1/2)
By Jon Waterman

Summary – In the early 1900s, a 14-year old Celie has her baby girl taken away from her, by her incestuous father, in order to be disposed of in some way.  Heartbroken, she’s desperate to find a way to be free of her abusive father.  A chance comes in the form of a suitor named Albert.  He’s a more well-to-do African American and takes her hand in marriage, even though he’d rather have Celie’s younger sister, Nettie.  Well, life with Albert may not be all that she hoped as she has to adjust to life with his abuses as well as his ban on letting Nettie ever visit again.

Dear God – In all honesty, it’s tough to explain the plot, because so much happens.  We’re following Celie’s life through several decades and a lot happens within the 2.5 hours of screen time.  Yet, despite that, the film almost feels too short.  I’m not familiar with Alice Walker’s novel, but the script is like a highlight (or low-light) reel of key events and much is glossed over too quickly.  There are times when certain things happen, like when Shug Avery comes to stay with them, and I wasn’t completely sure what lead to that.  Other key themes, like the relationship between Shug and Celie are simply alluded to, but that’s likely not because of time constraints but rather the era in which the movie was made.

Rainbows – Even though the plot is a series of bullet points, it’s still quite fascinating and runs the gamut of emotions.  Most of it is on the heavier side, but there is some much needed comic relief, like when Albert tries to make food for Shug and it turns into a slapstick adventure, or when Albert’s son’s love interest Sofia (played wonderfully by Oprah Winfrey) gives anyone their come-uppance.

Color Correction – Steven Spielberg’s direction is interesting, although maybe a tiny obvious at times. In the early parts of the film, he employs a lot of shadows on the wall for people talking (instead of showing them directly), or we see people talking through curtains or windows.  There’s almost always something obscuring or filtering Celie’s point of view to some degree.  Middle of the film, it’s more straight-forward.  Near the end, there is a lot of juxtaposition in the camerawork.  Parallels between two different scenes show the same movements, angels, settings and even sounds carry over as they cut back and forth.  I understand exactly why it was done, but again, it was maybe a tad obvious.

Biggest Standout – Whoopi Goldberg, known for her stand-up comedy and one-woman shows at this point, is absolutely phenomenal in her first movie.  She keeps a lot of that 14-year old childlike attitude and approach to situations without seeming adolescent.  Her whole being is a silver lining in a tough world that hasn’t given her a reason to see one.  Especially powerful for me was the scene when Shug sings to Celie and she forms tears in her eyes and works hard to avoid showing her growing smile.

Biggest Disappointment – I think the music was too heavy-handed and cheesy.  It gave the atmosphere of a more light-hearted ‘50s movie rather than the largely serious drama that was unfolding.

Is It Worth Watching Again? – Yes, I think so. It doesn’t feel as long as the running time indicates, and the performances are a fascinating stitching to a patchwork story.   I imagine it might be better served by reading the book first to understand more of the subtleties.

Rating: PG-13
Year: 1985
Running Time: 154 min
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Menno Meyjes
Starring:  Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Margaret Avery